Hand Hygiene and Infection Prevention

In 1864, Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician, became known as the father of infection control. He won this title when he demonstrated that proper and effective hand washing could adequately prevent the spread of disease and infections. At this point, it would seem that almost everyone knows about the importance of proper handwashing, especially in the healthcare environment, yet 150 years after the initial discovery we are still trying to remind ourselves of its importance.

According to WHO, there are few definitive data on the actual patient-care activities that are most likely to transmit bacteria to health care worker (HCW) hands, but there have been several studies that identified many possibilities.

Although Bacteria have been found on the hands of health care workers after activities such as wound care, intravascular catheter care, respiratory tract care, and handling patient secretions as expected, bacteria have also been found on HCW hands after so-called “clean” contact, such as taking a patient’s pulse, temperature or blood pressure.

Washing hands before and after patient contact seems like a simple solution to prevent the spread of bacteria between patients. Most hospitals have hand hygiene policies in place that guide their employees to do just that. But it is not as simple as it seems.

Hand hygiene

“When we look at all of the things that we can do to prevent infections in the hospital, one of the most important things about hand hygiene is that it works for so many different types of organisms, and you get a lot of bang for the buck”
“The issue is that you have to practice it at a high level of compliance for it to work. There are so many opportunities for hand hygiene, and it is difficult to get to a level of compliance where we’re able to make changes to infection rates.”

Michael Edmond, MD, MPH Professor of internal medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Commonwealth University, Virginia.

This leads us to two impending questions…

How do I wash my hands properly?

Washing your hands properly takes about as long as singing “Happy Birthday” twice, using the images below as outlined by the WHO.

How to wash your hands to prevent covid

When do I wash my hands, and how do I know the right time to do so?

The My 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene by the WHO fully answers this. The My 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene approach defines the key moments when healthcare workers should perform hand hygiene. It is evidence-based, field-tested, and user-friendly: designed to be easy to learn, logical, and applicable in a wide range of settings.

When to wash your hands to prevent covid